Tom Wells’ book on the Sabbath: Chapter Two


Chapter two is entitled “The OT Witness.” Wells first discusses the argument from creation (i.e., Gen. 2:1-3) or what many call creation ordinances. I will quote him in full at this point:

Perhaps you have heard someone say that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. What did they mean by that? Those who use the phrase appear to mean that at creation God gave commands to be carried out by all men and women throughout history. Often three are cited: marriage, labor and Sabbath. But if creation ordinance implies that all men and women must do these things, even if we suppose that Jesus needed to be an obvious exception, Paul shows us that it is not necessary that all normal people get married. In fact, he expressed a preference for singleness like his (1 Cor 7:7-8). So also the Sabbath could be an exception. (26)

I am not sure if any who advocate creation ordinances claim that marriage as instituted in Eden is a mandate for all men and women, no matter what circumstances might come onto the world-scene subsequently. If that were the case, then Jesus and Paul sinned in this area. This would be similar to arguing that the only legitimate vocation is that of Edenic garden-tending. I think the point is simply that if and when men and women unite in marriage, they are to do so monogamously. Also, though creation-based ethics (i.e., creation ordinances) are age-long ethics, the fall into sin does complicate matters. For instance, in Matt. 19, Jesus argues from the creation account to life-long monogamous marriage. However, he also acknowledges that sin has complicated matters and, thus, there is a modified application of the creation ordinance of marriage in a fallen world. In fact, due to the fall into sin and the curse, the creation ordinance of labor looks different in its post-lapsarian application (Gen. 3:17-19). Could it be the same for the Sabbath? Could it be that the Sabbath takes on various temporary nuances due to the presence of sin and God’s purposes in the unfolding drama of redemption? Obviously, I think this is the case. Due to God’s purposes in creation and redemption, the Sabbath takes on redemptive-historical nuances as it is applied in differing eras of redemptive history. Though sin may complicate or change the application of creation ordinances it does not negate them.

While discussing Gen. 2:1-3, Wells says:

To begin we see that there is nothing in Genesis 2:1-3 that commands a Sabbath for anyone. I have already said that the verses would fit in nicely with such a command. Does this prove that there was no such command? Of course not. Still there is no such command in the passage. People may imagine they hear one, but even a casual look shows that it is not there.

If we ask why people find a command here, they may tell us these verses do not stand alone but are joined with other verses in the Mosaic writings. When we look in those we find that each speaks only of what Israelites and people living in her land must do. Moses is silent on others. (26)

First, concerning the argument that since there is no command there is no command, it sure does have a prima facie appeal to it. There is no command, therefore there is no command! Case closed, end of debate, right? Not so fast. There are many things not commanded in the creation narrative that most Christians believe were, none-the-less, commands (call them moral requirements or whatever) for Adam and Eve and for all subsequent men and women. For instance, would Wells want to argue that since there is no command in the creation narrative concerning truth-telling, truth-telling was not commanded or required of Adam and Eve and all subsequent men and women? There is nothing in the creation narrative that explicitly commands truth-telling. It would fit in quite well but there is none. People may imagine they hear one, but even a casual look shows that it is not there. The same goes for monotheism, idolatry, honoring God-ordained human authorities, coveting, etc. Here’s the point, Wells’ argument is a non sequitur – it does not follow – and it actually proves too much. Wells is asking too much of a narrative. The Genesis creation account tells the story of creation; it is not an explicit, detailed ethical code. As a matter of fact, the creation narrative is scant when it comes to ethical injunctions compared to many other portions of Scripture. And even though it is not an explicit ethical code, that does not mean it does not imply ethics. For instance, we know that being an image-bearer of God has ethical implications. This is hinted at in the creation narrative (Gen. 1:26ff.) and teased-out for us elsewhere in subsequent revelation (cf. Rom. 1-2; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Jms. 3:9). In other words, general revelation is implicitly imperatival. The act of creation warrants, even demands man’s proper response. “Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him,” says Ps. 33:8. But why? Verse 9 says, “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” To what does “it” refer? “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made…” (Ps. 33:6a). In other words, the fact and act of creation is implicitly imperatival. This also shows us that subsequent revelation often makes explicit what was implicit in antecedent revelation. In other words, the Bible often expounds upon and applies itself, drawing out of previous revelation implications for the present that were always there (cf. Paul’s argument for gender-based ethics for the church in 1 Tim. 2:11ff.). And the implications it draws out are sometimes highly conditioned upon the era of redemptive history one lives in (i.e., Exod. 20:8ff.; Mk. 2:28; 1 Tim. 2:11ff.; Rev. 1:10). Wells seems to forget about general revelation and the ethical implications of creation imago Dei.

Second, Wells’ says, “these verses [Gen. 2:1-3]…do not stand alone but are joined with other verses in the Mosaic writings” and “[w]hen we look at those we find that each speaks only of what Israelites and people living in her land must do” (26). What are we to make of this? First of all, Gen. 2:1-3 is not only “joined with other verses in the Mosaic writings,” it is connected to and further explained by other portions of Holy Scripture. There are quotations/allusions to Gen. 2:1-3 outside of the Mosaic writings and these must be taken into account when seeking to understand it (cf. Mk. 2:27; Heb. 4:4, 9-10 [NOTE: Some day I want to trace the link between temple building and rest throughout the Scripture. My hunch is that I will find the first temple, the Garden, linked to rest, as well as Israel’s tabernacle/temple and the church. There was temple and rest in the Garden, there was temple and rest in Israel, there is temple and rest for the church, both in this age and in the age to come. But I digress.]).

Interestingly, Wells says elsewhere, “What could I tell others about the meaning of my keeping a Sabbath if all I had was Genesis 2:1-3?”(29). May I call a foul or throw a flag? This, too, is a non sequitur – it does not follow that since you can’t say much, therefore you can’t say anything. But also, we have much more revelation than simply Gen. 2:1-3 and limiting ourselves to it is simply dangerously myopic and a really poor hermeneutical move. The only infallible interpreter of the Holy Scripture is the Holy Spirit in the Holy Scripture. In other words, we must allow the Bible to speak concerning the canonical meaning of Gen. 2:1-3 lest we impose our own conjectures or arguments from silence upon it.

In my next post I will interact with Wells, where he says, “[w]hen we look at those [i.e., verses in Moses’ writings concerning the Sabbath] we find that each speaks only of what Israelites and people living in her land must do” (26).

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5 Responses to Tom Wells’ book on the Sabbath: Chapter Two

  1. Steve Owen says:

    Wells writes,
    ‘To begin we see that there is nothing in Genesis 2:1-3 that commands a Sabbath for anyone.’

    Am I going crazy? How can he write this stuff?
    Surely Almighty God Himself contradicts it? Did He not write upon tablets of stone,
    ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy……FOR in six days the LORD made heaven and earth….and rested the seventh day. THEREFORE the LOrd blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it’?

  2. Noble Vater says:

    I think Barcellos is right to mention Mark 2:27. Mark 2:27 surely carries us back to creation. The Sabbath was made for man, not the Jew, not Israel, for man, and men’s needs have not changed nor has God’s purpose. Even though their is no specific command given, who is the person who loves the Lord who would not view and honor that day thet He sanctified? Love and admiration of the Lord Who rested on that day, Who blessed and santified it, surely will lead us to see and treat it differently than any other day.

  3. Randy Snyder says:

    Great point Stephen.

    THEREFORE the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it’?

    He even made it a holy day back then. Good observation.

  4. The Sabbath of Exodus 20:11 refers both to God’s Sabbath and man’s. John Frame says:

    It is important to ask, what Sabbath does Ex. 20:11 refer to? Does “Sabbath” here refer to God’s rest after creating the world, or to man’s own Sabbath rest? The answer has to be, both. The first sentence of Ex. 20:11 refers to God’s own rest. But “Sabbath” in the second sentence must refer to the same Sabbath as in verse 8, the Sabbath God requires of Israel. Ex. 20:11 sees an identity between these. It teaches that when God took his own rest from his creative labors and rested on the seventh day, which he hallowed and blessed, he also hallowed and blessed a human Sabbath, a Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). In other words, when God blessed his own Sabbath rest in Gen. 2:3, he blessed it as a model for human imitation. So Israel is to keep the Sabbath, because in Gen. 2:2-3 God hallowed and blessed man’s Sabbath as well as his own. (Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, unpublished edition)

    This is why elsewhere the Sabbath is called God’s, because He instituted it and owns it (cf. Is. 58:13, “…the Sabbath…My holy day…”; Rev. 1:10, “…the Lord’s Day…”), and it is something that was made for man (Mk. 2:27, “the Sabbath was made for man…”). The Sabbath is God’s because of His example and institution of it. The Sabbath is man’s because God made it for him. Surely “the everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary” (Is. 40:28). God did not make the Sabbath for Himself because He was tired and needed rest; He made it for man. His example at creation is imperatival for man.

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